Traffic light confusion to blame in fatal crash?

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email | Twitter

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A deadly traffic accident is calling attention to the traffic signals that can confuse even the most seasoned driver.

Clarence and Margaret Bechdol drove in from Indiana to watch their granddaughter play soccer for U.T. Tyler. Wednesday, the couple drove through the flashing yellow light at Highway 271 and Loop 323.

They were t-boned by an oncoming truck. Margaret, 80, died from her injuries. Clarence, 79, was treated and released from a local hospital. The accident is raising some serious questions about the safety of those flashing arrows.

At first sight, caution caused confusion. "I think a lot of people are filling back into the straight through lane because they are afraid of that left turn lane," said one driver in 2007 when the lights were first installed. "They don't know what to do."

What a difference nearly three years makes. "People have gotten used to it," said Justin Smith, City of Tyler Associate Traffic Engineer. "They understand things now and they're actually requesting we install these at other locations."

More than 30 flashing yellow arrows are now scattered across Tyler. Smith says the lights were installed, mainly to improve safety and traffic flow. He says flashing yellow arrows result in fewer accidents across the country. In Tyler, there has not been much change for the better or the worse.

"We're improving the efficiency of our system without adversely effecting safety," said Smith.

It seems the problem starts long before we get behind the wheel of a car. We are taught green means go, yellow means wait, red means stop. When people see green, they automatically go even when they sometimes shouldn't. But, with a flashing yellow, they wait or don't go when they can.

"Green means go," said Smith. "Yellow means caution." Hence the warning signs accompanying those flashing yellow arrows. The city says those are no accident, either.

"The feds do not require that sign," said Smith. "We felt one was that people who weren't from Tyler would have an explanation for what the signal was."

Sixteen wrecks were reported at Highway 271 and Loop 323 in 2008, the location of Wednesday's accident. Fifteen were reported the next year. The flashing light was installed this past March. Only seven accidents have been reported so far this year.

James Johnson witnessed Wednesday's accident. "In a busy intersection like that, I think that yellow light is going to cause more trouble," said Johnson.

The city plans to install six more flashing yellows in the coming months.

The city says research was done after the first batch of lights were installed and another study on the flashing yellow arrows will be completed this summer. That research will include the current number of lights and more crash information.

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